Learning and Unlearning in Struggles for Social Change: Activism and the Continuing Egyptian Revolution

  • Helen Underhill

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis investigates the effects of participating in activism on the people who strugglefor social change. Using a critical pedagogical framework, the study contributes to thetheorisation of 'social movement learning' by drawing distinctions between processes,outcomes and implications of learning, and by developing the concepts '(un)learning'and 'pedagogical adversaries'. The research examines how activists who participate insocial and political action develop different perspectives of social change. Theconclusions draw on data collected throughout 2014, specifically interviews with, andobservations of, UK-based Egyptian activists who engaged in social action during thecontinuing 25 January revolution between 2011-2014. As activists reflect on theirunderstandings in the context of revolution and counter-revolution, coup d'etat, elections,strikes and various forms of social and political change, they reveal many 'pedagogicalentry points'. The findings illustrate that social movements are continuous processes andsites of important, rich and potentially transformative learning because they generatepedagogical moments through which activists can engage with and develop criticalperspectives of the way the world is and should be. Analysis of social movement learningas (un)learning exposes the cumulative and continuing nature of learning and unlearning,and generates important insights into how social movements challenge established'knowledge' and 'truths' to create progressive alternatives. Drawing on critical andradical theories of social change, the thesis demonstrates the importance of continuing toquestion conceptualisations of social change and of a political imagination thatunderstands the pedagogical potential of disjuncture and challenge.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorUma Kothari (Supervisor) & Susie Miles (Supervisor)


  • Democracy
  • Social change
  • Egyptian revolution
  • Pedagogy
  • Unlearning
  • Learning
  • Social movement

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